Sea changes for the Santa Fe Symphony

Composer John Rutter

It will be an afternoon of firsts for the Santa Fe Symphony at its Hope for the Planet concert on Sunday, March 15. The group’s new children’s chorus will make its debut with the full orchestra in John Rutter’s Mass of the Children; there’s a first-ever co-presenter credit to the group WildEarth Guardians; and visuals will be provided by Defenders of Wildlife, which has produced a video that accompanies the orchestra in Claude Debussy’s La mer (The Sea).

The newly forged SFS Community Children’s Ensemble includes about 50 students from local schools, including Acequia Madre Elementary School, El Dorado Community School, Santo Niño Regional Catholic School, and St. Michael’s High School, says Carmen Flórez-Mansi, who directs the orchestra’s adult chorus. The children’s in-school music teachers did the initial rehearsals for the Rutter Mass, she says. More recently they’ve been meeting as a group led by Flórez-Mansi.

“It’s a very lush, neo-Romantic piece, full of great melodies, and beautifully written for all of the voices: soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, and children’s chorus,” Flórez-Mansi says. She should know: In 2017, she took 125 young Santa Fe singers to New York, where she conducted them in a performance of the piece at Carnegie Hall.

Rutter incorporated several poems, including William Blake’s “The Lamb,” into his mass so that it describes the progression of a day from dawn to nightfall. “The children are the first to sing, so they’re like a burst of the morning sun,” she says. “They remind us of youth and the importance of enjoying each new day. In the second movement, the Gloria, they sound like church bells ringing, back and forth in alternation with the adult choir. Later on, they represent the lamb during the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). All in all, they sing during about half of the nearly 40-minute piece. It’s a lot!”

The co-presenter arrangement will be the first time the orchestra has shared concert costs and ticket revenues with another organization. “We couldn’t do a program of this scope without WildEarth Guardians,” says SFS executive director Daniel Crupi. “They’ve been involved with every step of the planning and are actively marketing the performance to their members. We want to start tackling big issues such as climate change and that means developing relationships with groups outside the arts world.”

Debussy subtitled La mer “Three symphonic sketches for orchestra” at its premiere in 1905. Expecting crashing waves and dramatic storms, audiences and critics initially found its restraint puzzling. Composer Erik Satie famously joked of the first sketch, “From dawn to noon on the sea,” that he liked the bit about a quarter to eleven best. Now La mer is considered one of the greatest examples of musical impressionism ever written. The Defenders of Wildlife-produced video will be primarily an evocation of the ocean as depicted in Debussy’s score, with a few reminders of our communal responsibility to care for it.”

Hope for the Planet takes place at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 15 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center (211 W. San Francisco St.). Tickets are $22-$80 from 505-983-1414 or santafesymphony.org.

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